David Joris (ca. 1501-1556)

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Engraving from Apocalypsis, or The revelation of certain notorious advancers of heresie. London, 1655.
Scan provided by the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.
David Joris by Jan van Scorel.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

His significance for the Anabaptist movement in the Netherlands long depreciated, David Joris is now seen as the most important Dutch Anabaptist leader from the Bocholt conference of 1536 until his departure for Basel in 1544. His reform career can be divided into four periods: an early reform stage during which he advocated an evangelical and anti-idolatry position for which he was punished and banned in 1528; a fairly quiet period as a Melchiorite Anabaptist between 1531 and 1535; a period of strong leadership over the various northern post-Münster Anabaptist factions as he sought to unite militants and pacifists under his charismatic authority (1536-1539); and the waning of his influence as he moved geographically to Antwerp in 1539 and then in 1544 to Basel. A defining moment for his theological development occurred in December 1538, when the apocalyptical hopes that he would be unveiled as the messianic king were crushed by the local authorities. From that moment on, Joris progressively abandoned Anabaptism and reshaped his allegorical tendencies into a fully formed spiritualism.

Born circa 1501, possibly in Bruges, Flanders, to a merchant-shopkeeper and rhetorician father Joris van Amersfoort and an upper-class mother from Delft, Holland, Maritje Jans de Gortersdochter, Joris received an elementary education at grammar and Latin schools. After his father’s death, Joris took up glasspainting, rather than merchandising. After his apprenticeship, around 1520 he embarked on a journeyman’s tour to England, where he worked on stained glass windows, including one still extant in Basingstoke probably designed by Bernard van Orley. Returning to the Netherlands about 1522, Joris worked first in Enkhuizen, then in Delft, where he established a shop and married Dirkgen Willem. Soon he was caught up in the evangelical reform movement, becoming a vigorous lay-preacher and pamphleteer against idolatry and the veneration of the Virgin Mary. It was during one of his impromptu sermons during an Ascension Day procession in 1528 that he was arrested. Due, it seems, to family influence, Joris was initially sentenced only to a period of house arrest, but the inquisitor’s insistence on capital punishment led to a revised sentence of corporal punishment and a three-year banishment.

During his exile Joris spent some time in Emden, East Frisia, where it is very likely that he heard Melchior Hoffman preach in the spring of 1530, and it is evident from songs he composed at this time that he was preoccupied with the doctrine of the incarnation. Returning to Holland in 1531, Joris practised his craft in The Hague and wrote songs indicating an interest in Melchiorite eschatology. On 5 December 1531, he witnessed the execution of the Melchiorite bishop Jan Volkertsz Trypmaker and nine other Melchiorites at The Hague. Joris had known Trypmaker from earlier discussions with him in Emden regarding the incarnation and the grisly scene made him understandably reluctant to become a fully baptized member. Hoffman himself proclaimed a two-year suspension of baptisms to avoid further martyrdoms. Despite his reluctance to publicly join the group, Joris met frequently with local Melchiorite leaders, so that when Jan Matthijs lifted the suspension of baptisms in December 1533, Joris relented, but not until winter 1534/35, after Jan van Leyden had become king of Münster. Although we do not know who actually baptized Joris, he was commissioned as bishop by Obbe Philips shortly thereafter. Apart from his participation in a meeting of Anabaptists in North Holland’s Waterland district that winter and trying to find a refuge for his growing family from the increasing persecution, we know very little of Joris’s activities at this time. Failing to find safety in Strasbourg and deterred by a storm from sailing to England, he was forced to return to Delft at the end of 1535, after the fall of Münster.

Joris soon became an active leader, most importantly at a meeting of Anabaptist elders at Bocholt in north-western Germany in late summer, 1536. Although other leaders such as Obbe and Dirk Philips and the militant Jan van Batenburg did not attend, there were representatives of both militant and pacifist wings, and Joris’s spiritualizing of controversial issues such as the identity of the angels of God who would avenge the blood of the saints, or whether or not to continue believers’ baptism, led to a formal agreement. Soon, however, the vagueness of Joris’s language in the accord led to its very quick unravelling. Despite this, Joris was emboldened by this victory and by some programmatic visions that he experienced at the end of the year to seek to persuade the Strasbourg Anabaptists of his prophetic authority. His failure at a meeting there in 1537 was followed shortly thereafter by the defection of the Münsterite remnant who had signed onto the Bocholt accord. Joris now described the Strasbourg Melchiorites as biblical literalists, and he moved more deeply into spiritualism. Even so, Joris maintained a significant following in Oldenburg and Westphalia, as his version of Anabaptism proved stiff competition to the Protestant Reformers working in the region.

When Batenburg himself was executed in April of 1538, Joris became the recipient of several more of the militant’s followers, including Heinrich Kaal, who brought a number of his fellows to join Joris in Delft. These seem to have expected that on Christmas Day Joris would be revealed as the messianic king David, successor to Jan van Leiden, three-and-a-half years to the day after the fall of Münster. This timing was, according to the Münsterites, eschatologically significant, for it corresponded to the “three-and-a-half times” of Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 12:14. However, before this event could transpire, the local authorities caught wind of the arrival of the militants and cracked down hard on the Jorists, yet Joris managed to escape. Joris’s most important supporter, Anneke Jansdr, was not so lucky, as she was arrested in Rotterdam on 20 December as she was rushing to Delft. Over the course of the year over 100 of Joris’s followers were arrested and executed, including his mother. This crushing disillusionment proved the catalyst for Joris’s abandonment of Anabaptism and of any thought of earthly fulfilment of prophecy, and his turn toward full spiritualism.

Until the summer of 1539, Joris remained the most wanted heretic in the Habsburg realm. He was constantly on the move, hidden by supporters who risked their lives to keep him alive. Despite this, he fathered at least 11 children with his wife Dirckgen. She too had been arrested in the 1539 crackdown, but was mysteriously released (she claimed not to have been rebaptized), although the rest of her companions were executed. In the summer, Joris’s increasing contacts with the nobility bore fruit, as he was provided sanctuary by the noble Van Lier family of Antwerp. It was here that Joris’s spiritualizing trends became fully developed: adult baptism became optional and the fervent apocalyptical expectations internalized as the coming of the spirit of Christ into each prepared believer. Works dating from this year, for example, explicitly state his unusual position that the devil did not exist as a separate creature outside of the inner evil lusts of the individual. He similarly internalized angels, drawing considerable opposition from Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic polemicists for what they considered was an incitement to atheism. Over time Joris also turned his notion of himself as the apocalyptical third David who would complete the work of the second David, Jesus Christ, into a spiritual restitution within each believer.

While in the environs of Antwerp he continued to communicate by letter with followers in the northern Netherlands and Germany and through his lieutenants, especially Jorien Ketel and Nicholas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk, the former having procured Joris’s Antwerp sanctuary. When Ketel was compromised by the testimony of the Batenburger Cornelis Appelman – who had been negotiating with Ketel for a copy of Joris’s magnum opus T’Wonderboek – he was imprisoned and interrogated for three months, during which he divulged Joris’s hiding place. Joris and his noble supporters moved hastily to Basel, where the spiritualist/Anabaptist leader resorted to his baptismal name, Johann van Brugge, a gentleman refugee from the religious persecution in the Netherlands. His leadership over the widespread Jorist group and negotiations with Mennonite leaders such as Menno Simons were now in the capable hands of Blesdijk. By 1539 Menno was warning his followers against the Nicodemite tendencies within Joris’s writings. The two exchanged correspondence in 1541 and 1542, although they never met face to face. In 1546 Blesdijk debated with Menno, Dirk Philips, and other Mennonite leaders, a meeting followed by further correspondence. In these Joris’s spiritualizing of Anabaptist motifs was debated, as was his denigration of formal learning and biblical literalism. Also of concern was Joris’s concept of inner self-mortification in which the believer put off the old Adam and re-enacted the crucifixion of Christ in his or her soul, thereby becoming transformed from an earthly to a spiritual creature desiring only the kingdom of God. Other targets for Menno’s ire was Joris’s depreciation of the mediatory role of the historical Christ, his concept of salvation as a process taking place solely in the believer’s heart and his assertion that external confessions and rites were optional, since to the pure, all things were pure. As Blesdijk commented, “to die for one’s beliefs was legitimate, to die for mere ceremonies was ridiculous.” For the Jorists, true baptism was the “baptism of the Spirit,” while water baptism was a mere external sign that could be avoided when necessary. By the early 1540s Joris saw the issue of infant baptism as of little concern. His unusual teachings about sexuality and holiness were also opposed by the Mennonites.

Joris and his wealthy supporters became valued members of Basel’s refugee community, associating with the French physician Jean Bauhin, who became Joris’s personal physician, and the Savoyard humanist Sebastian Castellio, who translated some of Joris’s writings into Latin. When Calvinist Geneva decided to burn the Spanish anti-trinitarian Michael Servetus in 1553, Joris sent a letter pleading with the Genevan councillors to change their minds, and as George Kleinberg he also contributed to Castellio’s controversial book De haereticis, an sint persequendi against executing heretics. Joris took up the noble lifestyle with aplomb, sleeping late, patronizing the arts, riding, corresponding with far-flung supporters, fathering at least two bastard children and even wearing a sword in a contemporary portrait. Despite Joris’s comfortable life, there remained rumours and suspicion about the gentleman from the Netherlands. Growing discontent among some of his close associates, moreover, grew into an open rebellion in 1553/4, and Blesdijk abandoned his father-in-law, eventually becoming a Reformed minister. Ill and distraught over his wife’s recent death, Joris died on 25 August 1556. He was buried in St. Leonard’s Church. By this time Netherlandic visitors to Basel had identified Van Brugge as the infamous Joris. In 1558 the city council asked the legal experts of the University of Basel for an opinion, and they agreed that a public trial was required. Joris was found guilty, his corpse exhumed and, on 13 May 1559, burned along with many of his books and pictures.

After Joris’s death, sympathizers continued to print and disseminate his numerous writings well into the 17th century, although any identifiable Jorist movement eventually disappeared. While the name David Joris became a byword for false sorcery and atheism in the propaganda of orthodox churchmen, his advocacy of religious toleration and of an inner spirituality freed from external confession and ritual proved immensely popular in an era of confessional conflict and warfare. The famous Dutch spiritualist Dirk Volckhertsz Coornhert for one owed much to Joris’s ideas. Many in the later Dutch liberal Mennonite (Doopsgezinde) wing, such as Hans de Ries, also took a spiritualizing approach to the bible reminiscent of Joris’s. Even the conservative Mennonite Pieter Jansz Twisck utilized Joris’s writings. Seventeenth-century Dutch Collegiants and 18th century German Pietists, such as Gottfried Arnold, circulated and praised his writings, and it is thanks to Arnold especially that the first-hand anonymous biography of Joris has survived. The debate over Joris’s denial of a creaturely devil helped spread this unorthodox demonology, which may help account for the Northern Netherlands moderation in the prosecution of witchcraft. Joris’s view certainly influenced many Doopsgezinden, some of whom composed anti-witch-hunt treatises emphasizing the impotence of the devil during the infamous witch-hunts. It is also known that Joris and the anti-witch-hunt physician Johann Wier (Weyer) had been in communication.

Joris has left behind an immense corpus of writings, only a portion of which have been fully catalogued. These include well over 200 published works, most, but not all, catalogued in 1867 by A. van der Linde, ranging from the massive, two editions of his T’Wonderboek, to long treatises on a wide array of topics and to short tracts and pamphlets, many of which were collected into handbooks. There are also three published volumes of correspondence and one manuscript volume of early letters called the “Hydeckel.” There are also several collections of other manuscript versions of tracts and letters. Much work remains to be done to catalogue Joris’s writings and to evaluate the impact of his ideas, following and legacy.

Recent Literature since 1985

Bakker, Willem de, and Gary K. Waite, “Rethinking the Murky World of the Post-Münster Dutch Anabaptist Movement, 1535-1538: A Dialogue between Willem de Bakker and Gary K. Waite,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 92 (January 2018): 47-91.

Boon, K.G. “De Glasschilder David Joris, een Exponent van het Doperse Geloof. Zijn Kunst en zijn Invloed op Dirck Crabeth.” Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België 49 (1988): 117-137.

Dipple, Geoffrey. “The Spiritualist Anabaptists.” In A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, eds. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007: 257-297.

Förster, Karin. Das reformatorische Täufertum in Oldenburg und Umgebung (1535-1540): Under der besonderen Berücksichtigung des Täufertheologen David Joris. Berlin: Lit Verlag Dr. W. Hopf, 2019.

Johnston, Colleen A. “The Hymns of David Joris: A Preliminary Study.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 64 (1990): 113-34.

Moss, Christina, and Gary K. Waite, “Argula von Grumbach, Katharina Schütz Zell, and Anabaptist and Jorist Women.” In Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, Ronald K. Rittgers and Vincent Evener, eds. St. Andrews Series in Reformation History. Leiden: Brill, 2019: 159-178.

Packull, Werner O. “Anna Jansz of Rotterdam, a Historical Investigation of an Early Anabaptist Heroine.” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 78 (1987): 147-173.

Shantz, Douglas H. “David Joris, Pietist Saint: The Appeal to Joris in the Writings of Christian Hoburg, Gottfried Arnold and Johann Wilhelm Petersen.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 78 (2004): 415-432.

Stayer, James M. “David Joris: A Prolegomenon to Further Research.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 61 (1985): 350-366.

Valkema Blouw, Paul “Printers to the ‘Arch-Heretic’ David Joris: Prolegomena to a bibliography of his works.” Quaerendo 21 (1991): 163-209.

Veen, Mirjam van. “‘Contaminated with David Joris’s blasphemies.’ David Joris’s contribution to Castellio’s De haereticis an sint persequendi.” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 69 (2007): 313-326.

Veen, Mirjam van. “David Joris’ Memoryaell.” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 33 (2007): 31-40.

Veen, Mirjam van. “‘Ontallijcke brieven van eenderley materie.’ De propaganda van David Joris.” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 32 (2006): 39-74

Veen, Mirjam van. “‘Grouwelicke blasphemien.’ Davidjoristisch élan en gereformeerde onmacht rond 1600 in Holland.” De zeventiende eeuw 20 (2004): 220-239.

Veen, Mirjam van. “Spiritualism in the Netherlands. From David Joris to Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 33 (2002): 129-150.

Veen, Mirjam van, “‘Prophecie oder weyssaging.’ Een onbekend geschrift van David Joris.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis (2001): 3-9.

Waardt, Hans de. “Witchcraft, Spiritualism and Medicine: the Religious Convictions of Johan Wier.” Sixteenth Century Journal 42 (2011): 369-391.

Waite, Gary K. “Fear and Loathing in the Radical Reformation: David Joris’s Efforts to Achieve Emotional Calm in the Midst of Adversity, 1525-1556” In Feeling Exclusion: Religious Conflict, Exile and Emotions in Early Modern Europe, Giovanni Tarantino and Charles Zika, eds. London: Routledge, 2019: 100-125.

Waite, Gary K. “Knowing the Spirit(s) in the Dutch Radical Reformation: From Physical Perception to Rational Doubt, 1536-1690.” In Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period, Michelle D. Brock, Richard Raiswell, and David R. Winter, eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2018: 23-54.

Waite, Gary K. “Martyrs and Nicodemites Both? Spiritualistic and Rationalistic Currents within the Dutch Anabaptist Tradition – David Joris, Sebastian Castellio, and Pieter Jansz Twisck 1535–1648.” In Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563) - Dissidenz Und Toleranz: Beitrage Zu Einer Internationalen Tagung Auf Dem Monte Verita in Ascona 2015, Barbara Mahlman-Bauer, ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018: 423-457.

Waite, Gary K. “David Joris (1501-1556). “Kunstenaar en profeet van de hernieuwde zintuigen,” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 43 (2017): 15-40.

Waite, Gary K. “Pieter Jansz Twisck on David Joris: A Conservative Mennonite and an Unconventional Spiritualist.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 91 (2017): 371-402.

Waite, Gary K. “Conversos and Spiritualists in Spain and the Netherlands: The Experience of Inner Exile, c.1540-1620.” In Exile and Religious Identities, 1500-1800, Jesse Spohnholz and Gary K. Waite, eds. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014: 157-170.

Waite, Gary K. “Anabaptist Anticlericalism and the Laicization of Sainthood: Anabaptist Saints and Sanctity in the Netherlands.” In Confessional Sanctity (c.1550 - c. 1800), Juergen Beyer et al, eds. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern 2003: 163-180.

Waite, Gary K. “Radical Religion and the medical Profession: The Spiritualist David Joris and the Brothers Weyer (Wier).” In Radikalität und Dissent im 16. Jahrhundert / Radicalism and Dissent in the Sixteenth Century, Hans-Jürgen Goertz and James M. Stayer, eds. Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 2002: 167-185.

Waite, Gary K. “Women Supporters of David Joris.” In Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers, C. Arnold Snyder and Linda H. Hecht, eds. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996: 316-335.

Waite, Gary K. “From David Joris to Balthasar Bekker?: The Radical Reformation and Scepticism towards the Devil in the Early Modern Netherlands (1540-1700).” Fides et Historia 28:1 (Winter/Spring, 1996): 5-26.

Waite, Gary K. “Talking Animals, Preserved Corpses and Venusberg: The Sixteenth-Century Worldview and Popular Conceptions of the Spiritualist David Joris (1501-1556).” Social History 20 (1995): 137-156.

Waite, Gary K. “‘Man is a Devil to Himself’: David Joris and the Rise of a Sceptical Tradition towards the Devil in the Early Modern Netherlands, 1540-1600.” Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History 75/1 (1995): 1-30.

Waite, Gary K. “Een ketter en zijn stad. David Joris en Delft.” In Heidenen, papen, libertijnen en fijnen. Artikelen over de kerkgeschiedenis van het zuidwestelijk gedeelte van Zuid-Holland van de voorchristelijke tijd tot heden. Zesde verzameling bijdragen van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis, J. C. Okkema, F.A. van Lieburg, B.J. Spruyt and G.N.M. Vis, eds. Delft, 1994: 121-137.

Waite, Gary K. “The Dutch Nobility and Anabaptism, 1535-1545.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 23 (1992), 458-485.

Waite, Gary K. “The Holy Spirit Speaks Dutch: David Joris and the Promotion of the Dutch Language, 1539-1545.” Church History 61 (1992): 47-59.

Waite, Gary K. and Samme Zijlstra, eds. “Antiochus Revisited: An Anonymous Anabaptist Letter to the Court at the Hague.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 66 (1992): 26-46.

Waite, Gary K. “The Longevity of Spiritualistic Anabaptism: The Literary Legacy of David Joris.” Canadian Journal of History / Annales Canadiennes D’Histoire 26 (1991): 177-198.

Waite, Gary K. ed., trans., The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris, 1535-1543. Waterloo and Scottdale: Herald Press, 1994.

Waite, Gary K. David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1990.

Zijlstra, Samme. Om de ware gemeente en de oude gronden: Geschiedenis van de dopersen in de Nederlanden 1531-1675'.' Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren, 2000.

Zijlstra, Samme. ed., “De brief van David Joris aan het Hof van Holland, 1539". Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 23 (1997): 133-149.

Zijlstra, Samme. “Menno Simons and David Joris.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (1988): 249-256.

This article is based on the original English essay that was written for the Mennonitisches Lexikon (MennLex) and has been made available to GAMEO with permission. The German version of this article is available at http://www.mennlex.de/doku.php?id=art:joris_david&s[]=david&s[]=joris.

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Articles

By Gerhard Hein and Gary K. Waite. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 17-19; v. 5, p. 216. All rights reserved.

1956 Article

David Joris (ca. 1501-1556), a Dutch Anabaptist, was "in a single person prophet, apocalyptic, spiritualist, and mystic" (Kühn, 271), founder of the Davidjorists. There are various versions of his name; besides David—named thus after the Jewish king, a role which his father George (hence Georgii or Joriszoon-Joris) is said to have played in the Rederijkerskamer—also Jan, after his maternal grandfather (Jan van Brugge was his pseudonym after 1544). The rank of his parents is debated. The city of his birth is given as Delft, Bruges, and Ghent. Little is known of his youth. He is said to have been weak physically, and inclined to fanaticism. In glass painting he developed great skill, but by the death of his father he was compelled to support his mother, Marytge Jan de Gortersdochter, as a merchant. In this calling he traveled from Antwerp through France and England. In 1524 he married in Delft and settled there. No particulars are known about his wife, Dirkgen Willems.

The Reformation made a deep impression on Joris. The earliest of his writings and hymns preserved to us are dated 1529; they reveal unusual Scriptural knowledge. Kühn says of Joris (p. 272): "There are probably few uneducated writers who have made more versatile use of the Bible." He was bold and open in his opposition to Catholic priests, and by 1528 had suffered various severe punishments (lashing, having tongue bored through, and banishment from Delft for three years).

During his exile Joris became acquainted with the Anabaptists of Holland, and was deeply moved by their martyrdom. After some hesitation he joined them, was baptized by Obbe Philips (at Delft, about September 1534), and ordained to the ministry. The songs he wrote in 1535 and 1536 reflect the excited mood of the harassed, fugitive Anabaptist (at Pentecost in 1535 he was in Strasbourg), but are very far removed from the revolutionary spirit of Münster; "he could not sanction attacking with the sword." He openly opposed Batenburg. After the Münster catastrophe he tried vainly to unite the various factions at a conference convening at Bocholt, August 1536.

Soon afterward, inspired by the fanatical words of Anneken Jans and by fantastic visions, he began to consider himself a Spirit-anointed prophet, a third David. Borne by the utmost self-confidence, he preached deepest humility and self-denial; though living in rigid asceticism, he has been charged with moral lapses. A dangerous mysticism appeared in him, which could and did, at any rate among some of his followers, lead to antinomian, libertinistic views and moral errors.

Joris, supported by friends and relatives, now devoted himself entirely to the service of the Spirit. His followers had visions which centered around him. He established a large party of his own. In January 1539, the government took definite steps against him and his party. On 21 February 1539, his mother was beheaded and his family fled from Delft. Until 1544 he stayed in various hiding places in Holland, East Friesland, and Belgium, everywhere in acute danger, and everywhere winning followers, most of them among the Batenburgers after the fall of their leader in 1538, and the Münsterites. With the moderate wing of the Anabaptists he met twice, at Oldenburg and at Strasbourg. But they were becoming suspicious of him and his doctrine, whereas his own followers glorified him more and more.

Success as well as resistance strengthened Joris' consciousness of his calling as a prophet and reformer of the whole world. In 1539 he sent a bold self-defense to the court of justice in Holland, and a prophetic writing to Philipp of Hesse by his messenger, Jurriaen Ketel, enclosing a letter to the emperor and the other estates. To Countess Anna of East Friesland-Oldenburg he sent a long defense, trying to reply to 25 charges, chiefly against his personal attitude and his expectations of the future, and closing with a long mystical confession of faith. It is also known that he wrote to Luther, warning him of his self-derived wisdom and reason.

Joris considered it a dead-letter faith to treat the Bible as the sole authority. Nothing definitive could be decided by the letter in religious disputes; it was necessary to look about for the "Son," to whom alone it is revealed, and who, as Joris is said to have written for the Regensburg Disputation in 1541, was to come from the Netherlands, whose type was Egypt. Whereas on the whole the Anabaptists held to the Scriptures as a principle, Joris rejected them and made a principle of mystical experience. "To the mystic Joris historical revelation was merely a matter of the senses; his religious experience lay outside it" (Kühn, 300).

In 1542, the year he published his principal work with the characteristic title: 'tWonderboeck, waer in dat van der Wendt aen ver sloten gheopenbaert is. Wie een der Ick (secht de Heere) senden sal, ontfanght in mynen Naem, die ontfanght my; wie my ontfanght, ontfanght den die my ghesonden heeft. Hoochghelovet moet by syn, die als een Ambassatoer gesonden komt, in den Name des Heeren, the difference between Joris and Menno Simons burst into a violent dispute. Menno had already in his Fundamentboek (1539) warned against the false prophet. Joris then attacked Menno in a fiery letter: "Gird on your sword, Menno Simons, . . arm yourself with the most powerful Scriptural weapon! . . Who advises you, Menno, to appear so boldly before the Lord, that you elevate yourself above all? Do say, dear man, what spirit or witness advises you to teach? Who has sent you? . . . I will show you (however firmly you may think you have it) that you do not know it, nor do you know what is truth and wisdom, except after the letter." Violently Joris attempted to make Menno recognize his divine mission; but Menno rejected "imaginations, rhetorical tricks, and other deceptions of the devil" which Joris substituted for the Gospel; he said Joris was correctly taken for the "anti-Christ, the man of sin, the son of perdition, a false prophet, murderer of souls, deceiver and falsifier of the divine truth and the commands of Christ." It was evidence of devilish pride and anti-Christian foolishness, that Joris "elevates his visions and dreams above the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who has taught the apostles and prophets."

Without doubt Menno hit the crux of Joris' fateful error when he said, "Under the pretext of humility he promotes devilish defiance and under the name of perfection, chastity, and other virtues he promotes various vices and shameful deeds." Menno refused to carry the dispute any further.

Offended by Menno's sharp words, Joris protested in a leaflet which he tried to distribute among the Mennonites of East Friesland. For a long time Menno had difficulties with Davidjorists in his own camp; especially Blesdijk rose in defense of his future father-in-law, though he later deserted him.

After a violent debate between the Davidjorists and John a Lasco, the superintendent of the established church in East Friesland, principally on the subject of the authority of the new prophet, which a Lasco in spite of a tolerant nature would not grant, Joris secretly went to Basel in 1544 before the persecution against his group began in East Friesland and lived there with his family under the name of Jan van Brugge as a Reformed refugee, a wealthy and respected citizen.

Meanwhile he continued to influence his followers by innumerable letters to Holland, Belgium, Friesland, Holstein, Denmark, and other countries. His concealment he justified by the example of "Christ, who was likewise concealed in Egypt." He advised his followers against open confession; this course Menno and others called outright hypocrisy. But Joris outwardly held to the Reformed faith, lived in wealth and comfort, and at the same time preached to his followers to flee "false prophets and the wise and mighty in the world."

One remarkable feature of his teaching was his fight for unrestricted religious liberty . In Basel he wrote a petition to the Swiss cities on behalf of the "good and pious Servetus." He carried on a friendly correspondence with Schwenckfeld and Castellion, Calvin's famous opponent. On the other hand, at the end of his life he was on unfriendly terms with his own son-in-law, Blesdijk, who, formerly his warmest adherent, now became his most violent opponent.

Joris died on 25 August 1556, and was buried with full honors in St. Leonard's church in Basel. But two and one-half years later quarrels within the Jorist party led to the discovery of his fraud. The family was summoned before the pastor and the magistrate; eleven men, relatives and friends, were taken to prison. A great number of books and letters, also a picture of Joris, were confiscated and given over to a learned commission for examination. The Jorist errors were compiled on the basis of Blesdijk's already published critique in eleven articles. His family claimed to know nothing of these doctrines, condemned them, and were released under certain conditions, including a public confession in church. But Joris' corpse and his books were publicly burned outside the city on 13 May 1559.

This execution, however, by no means eliminated the Davidjorists, who tried to refute Blesdijk and the Baslerites, and continued to challenge the official church and the theologians to bitter disputes. Examples are Coornhert's feud with the Davidjorists at the end of the 16th century and Ubbo Emmius's polemics against Huygelmumzoon (a pseudonym, perhaps identical with the anonymous opponent of Coornhert). In the 17th century the Davidjorists in Holstein became prominent; Moldenit and his son-in-law Jessenius wrote extensively against them. Gottfried Arnold, on the other hand, defended David Joris, and preserved extremely valuable source material in favor of the much calumniated man in his Unparteiische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie.

The numerous writings of Joris, especially in the Basel period, and the old literature about him, are compiled in van der Linde, who has evidence of 264 religious tracts. The older literature for and against Joris contains a long series of unresolved contradictions. -- Gerhard Hein

1990 Article

David Joris was by trade a glasspainter whose reform career can be divided into four overlapping phases: Sacramentarian (1524-1530); Melchiorite sympathizer (1531-1534); Anabaptist leader (1534-ca. 1543); and Spiritualist (ca. 1540-1556). As a Melchiorite, Joris was caught up in the apocalyptic excitement that inspired much of the movement (Melchior Hoffman), but due to his earlier punishment in 1528 and despite his acceptance into the leadership by Obbe Philips and Damas von Hoorn at the end of 1534, he remained hesitant to join radical programs. This is borne out by his cautious behavior at the Waterland Conference in the winter of 1534/1535.

After the fall of Münster, Joris became the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands between 1536 and 1539, concerned primarily with uniting the remnants of Melchiorites and Münsterites by his charisma and a compromise program. As the result of his successful mediation at Bocholt (August 1536) and encouraged by visions experienced in December 1536, Joris came to conceive of himself as the "third David." His consistent advocacy of a peaceful approach may have enhanced his stature in the eyes of those seeking to distance themselves from the Münster fiasco. It also helped some to make a successful transition from revolution to non-violence. Joris' support came largely from Anabaptist artisans who found his option of flight into interior religion ("internal exile") more appropriate for remaining in the urban centers of the Netherlands than the sectarian option of gathered, disciplined congregations presented by Menno Simons. Joris' leadership campaign led him to conferences in Oldenburg in Westphalia (spring 1538), where he gained briefly the adherence of the remnant Münsterites under the leadership of Heinrich Krechting and in Strasbourg (summer 1538), where his program was rejected by the Strasbourg Melchiorites.

Although retaining contact with many former Melchiorites, Joris accelerated his spiritualization of Melchiorite beliefs after he moved to Antwerp in 1539. Moving to Basel in 1544, he found permanent refuge and freedom from the persecution that had hounded him for 15 years—under the name "Jan van Brugge." In Basel his Spiritualism developed fully and his Anabaptist beliefs receded to insignificance. -- Gary K. Waite


A. van der Linde's David Joris Bibliografie. Martinus Nijhoff, 1867 is in need of updating. Not only have additional works been discovered by Roland Bainton, David Joris. Wiedertäufer und Kämpfer für Toleranz. Leipzig, 1937, 108-109, but there is a large collection of Joris material, called the Jorislade, located in the Basel University Archives.

One of the 15 volumes, the "Hydeckel" (no. IX), is a manuscript collection of Joris' early letters (1537-1543), including his response to Hans Eysenburg that formerly was thought to have been lost. The record of Joris' debate with the Strasbourg Melchiorites (the "Twistredt") was published in TA Elsass III.

Biographical information is found in "David Joris sonderbare Lebens-beschreibung" in Gottfried Arnold, Unpartheiische Kirchen- und Ketzer Historie, vol. 2. Frankfurt, 1729, reprinted Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1967: 703-37. This anonymous work is so richly detailed and historically accurate that it may have been written by Joris himself.

Further information is found in Nicolaas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk, Historia Vitae, doctrinae ac rerum gestarum Davidis Georgii haeresiarchae. Deventer, 1642. While the anonymous biography in Arnold's Ketzer Historie is slanted in favor of Joris, Blesdijk wrote his account to uncover his father-in-law's heresy.

Recent scholarship has gone beyond the preliminary work of Friedrich Nippold, "David Joris van Delft: Sein Leben, seine Lehre und seine Secte." Zeitschrift für historische Theologie. Gotha, 1863 and Bainton. James M. Stayer has summarized recent literature in "David Joris: A Prolegomenon to Further Research," Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 (1985): 350­366, and detailed the debate between Joris and Menno Simons in "Davidite vs. Mennonite," Mennonite Quarterly Review 58 (1984): 459­476.

S. Zijlstra argued that Joris was the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands between 1536 and 1539 in "David Joris en de Doperse Stromingen (1536-1539)," in Historisch Bewogen, ed. M. G. Buist and others. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1984: 125-138, and in Nicolaas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk Een Bijdrage tot de Geschiedenis ran het Davidjorisme. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1983. Zijlstra has also explained the reasons behind Joris' success in winning some followers from Menno in "Menno Simons and David Joris," Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (1988): 249-256.

Gary K. Waite discussed Joris' following, ideology, and contribution in "Spiritualizing the Crusade: David Joris in the Context of the Early Reform and Anabaptist Movements in the Netherlands, 1524-1543." PhD diss., U. of Waterloo, 1986.

See also:

Waite, Gary K. "Staying Alive: The Methods of Survival as practiced by an Anabaptist Fugitive, David Joris." Mennonite Quarterly Review 61 (1987): 46-57.

Waite, Gary K. "David Joris' Thought in the Context of the Early Anabaptist Movement in the Netherlands, 1534­1536." Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (1988): 296-317.

Werner O. Packull, "Anna Jans of Rotterdam, a Sixteenth Century Heroine," Archiv für Reformation Geschichte 78 (1987): 147-173, is a study of one of Joris' followers. Klaus Deppermann, Melchior Hoffman. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1979, esp. 315-324, analyses Joris' discussions with the Strasbourg Melchiorites, although Deppermann's contention that Joris supported polygamy (317) has been refuted by Zijlstra, "David Joris, p. 134.

See also C. W. A. Willemse. "De briefwisseling tussen David Joris en Johannes a Lasco," Doopsgezinde Bijdragen , n.r. 4 (1979): 9-22.

Arnold, Gottfried. Unparteiische Kirchen. und Ketzer-historie. Frankfurt, 1699. B. XVI. C. XXI. 44 ff.

Bainton, Roland H. David Joris, Wiedertäufer und Kämpfer für Toleranz im 16. Jahrhundert (Archiv für Reformation- Geschichte, Texte und Untersuchungen, Ergänzungsband 6). Leipzig, 1937 was the definitive work in the 1950s which superseded all others, supplemented the Joris bibliography of van der Linde, brought Nippold's bibliography up-to-date, and printed 110 pages of Joris documents. An English condensation appears in Bainton's The Travail of Religious Liberty. Philadelphia, 1951: 125-148.

Burckhardt, P. David Joris und seine Gemeinde in Basel. Reprint from Basler Ztscht f. Gesch. u. Altertumskunde 48 (1949):, 5.106 suspects Joris guilty of bigamy.

Burckhardt, P. "David Joris," in Basler Biographien I, 1900.

Hoop Scheffer, J. G. de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1883-1884: Nos. 3, 148, 203, 205, 208-10, 254, 269, 277, 309, 443, 767-70.

Kühn, Johannes. Toleranz und Offenbarung. Leipzig, 1923: 271-301.

Kühler, W. J. Geschiedenis I.

Mennonitisches Lexikon II: 433-435.

Nippold, Fr. "David Joris, sein Leben, seine Lehre und seine Sekte." Zischt für die hist. Theologie, 1863 and 1864.

Visscher, H. and van Langeraad, L. A. Biographisch Woordenboek von Protestantische Godgeleerden in Nederland. Utrecht ; the Hague, 1903-, v. 4: 575-582.

Author(s) Gary K Waite
Date Published February 2020

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Waite, Gary K. "David Joris (ca. 1501-1556)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2020. Web. 15 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=David_Joris_(ca._1501-1556)&oldid=166692.

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Waite, Gary K. (February 2020). David Joris (ca. 1501-1556). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=David_Joris_(ca._1501-1556)&oldid=166692.

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